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by Vanessa Ruiz, 2013 BA Candidate
Tippie's CIMBA MBA program, based in Asolo, Italy, offers a unique opportunity for young professionals to hone their management and leadership skills-- and expand their horizons.
One CIMBA alumnus found the experience to be more than a business lesson-- in fact, she found it to be life-changing. Tory Ruohonen, a 2006 Michigan State University graduate with a B.A. in Marketing Management and Advertising Design, had spent four years working as a junior designer in the Chicago area when she realized that she “needed a big change.” After reaching out to a CIMBA alumnus friend who told her about the program’s focus on leadership development, Tory knew that applying to the selective MBA program was the first step in the next phase of her life.
In addition to participating in over 25 leadership workshops and coaching sessions during her time in the CIMBA program from 2010-2011, Tory was able to gain management experience through her roles as Professional Development Committee Leader and Team Leader for a class consulting project with Athena. She also lent her graphic design and marketing skills to the students in the CIMBA undergraduate program, teaching two groups of students the basics of Photoshop and InDesign for their study abroad yearbooks.
While the real-world business experience she gained was an invaluable component of her tenure in the CIMBA MBA program, Tory cites the lifelong friendships she formed with her classmates as one of the most rewarding parts of the experience. “They gave me honest feedback, provided me a shoulder to cry on when I got overwhelmed, celebrated my accomplishments, and shared their life experience,” she says, crediting the program’s small class size as a major reason for the strong bonds that she formed.
Following her graduation from the MBA program in 2011, Tory set her sights on a new international experience. “Through the self-discovery journey that is integral to the program at CIMBA, I learned that one of my core values is helping people,” she says, and with this knowledge Tory narrowed her job search to non-governmental organizations in developing countries. “I craved the cultural immersion I experienced in Italy, but this time I was ready for a new part of the world.”
This new part of the world turned out to be Africa. As the Tourism/Booking and Internship Coordinator for Art in Tanzania, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and providing resources for local artists in Tanzania, Tory was in charge of recruiting and managing numerous interns, 20 local staff members, and over 80 volunteers. She also developed and implemented new safari programs focused on connecting visitors with the Tanzanian culture and was able to engage in a number of life-changing experiences herself, including mountain climbing, volunteering in orphanages and hospitals, and even accompanying a group of Bushmen on a sunrise hunt in the safari.
Interacting with Art in Tanzania’s staff and volunteers proved to be a cultural experience in itself. “Prior to starting at Art in Tanzania I had anticipated and was even excited to embrace the cultural differences and challenges of living in East Africa,” she says. “Upon arrival, I realized I had overlooked the many other layers of cultural differences I was going to encounter on a daily basis. The founder was from Finland, my co-workers were from various countries in Europe, and the volunteers came from all ends of the earth.”
Tory’s work with Art in Tanzania not only gave her a new perspective on international business, but on everyday activities as well. “This situation taught me to appreciate the small victories, like being able to negotiate a better price for a mango at the local fruit stand or learning a new word in Swahili or a card game in Danish.”
After holding this role from December 2011 to July 2012, Tory served as Art in Tanzania’s U.S. Marketing Coordinator for the six months following her return. Tory has continued to exercise her marketing skills as the current Marketing Manager for Chicago-based Ella's Bubbles, LLC, and as the Founder and Marketing Director of her own marketing company, Toritivity. However, she is currently looking into options to start her own company or NGO that will give her the opportunity to visit more countries and make a bigger impact on people around the world. “I truly love marketing, interacting with customers and learning something new every day,” she says, “and the challenge of working and living in a new country speaks to my core being. I am constantly inspired by the people I encounter throughout my travels and cannot wait to visit more countries.”
Living in Italy during her time in Tippie’s CIMBA MBA program sparked Tory’s desire to travel the world and better the lives of others, and serves as a testament to Tippie’s far-reaching impact on its students and their future endeavors.
To read more about Tory’s experience living in Tanzania, visit her personal blog at camelsthatfetch.tumblr.com/. To help her fulfill her quest to return abroad in a meaningful way, vote for her to win a spot on the next TOMS shoe-giving trip in Ticket to Give Event.